Alice Victoria Saum
Written by Mary Marr and Jessie Blalock, grand-daughter and great grand-daughter of Alice Victoria Saum
Alice Victoria Saum was born and grew up in an area populated by members of her extended family. Fairfield County was full of Dumms and Phillipses, and other of like ethnic backgrounds (Pennsylvania Dutch and Alsatians). I suspect that it must have been a happy and secure childhood, full of familiar folks, and not materially lacking, as Ohio was good farming land, and those of Germanic ancestry generally were very competent farmers who could get a decent crop from the land.
Perhaps it was this sense of complacency that attracted Alice to the man whom she would eventually marry - John Ernest Stermer was no doubt well-known as being from the "wrong side of the tracks", as it was common knowledge that he was illegitimate, and his mother had been cruelly tarnished with the label of "whore" by a vindictive ex-lover (John's father), in
cahoots with a corrupt retired police captain. One wonders why John Ernest did not flee Lancaster at a very young age,
but it was probably due to a sense of responsibility to his mother and his younger siblings that he stayed.
So Alice and John fell in love and were married, and it was only then, after she began bearing children, that John's strong sense of wanderlust overwhelmed him, and he rebelled against Alice's wishes that he farm in Ohio by instead seeking employment with one of the many petroleum drilling firms that had offices and Lancaster, and shortly thereafter he was off, far away. First he went to Mexico for a few years, after which he left under possibly sinister circumstances. (Family legend says that it was his financial assistance to the rebel Zapata that resulted in his being expelled by the Mexican government and being declared "persona non-grata".)
John made periodic trips home, often enough to keep Alice steadily pregnant between 1896 and 1906, and then he made his final journey, to Burma, where he died of disease in 1912.
After her husband died in Burma, the Ohio river flooded and tore the Stermer house off the ground. The whole family climbed to their roof and into the attic of a neighbor's house. Their house rolled over and floated down the river. They stayed in that attic three days. When the water subsided, Alice took the children to St. Vincent's Orphanage in Columbus, Ohio. The insurance company refused to pay Grandpa Stermer's insurance until Grandma could PROVE he was dead.
She, being a good cook, went to work as the cook for a retired diplomat. He helped her write all the letters and esablish her case. The most helpful person was an American Baptist missionary who had visited John Ernest in the hospital before he died and who had conducted funeral services in the Rangoon cemetery for foreigners. Then she was paid the insurance money - it took THREE years!. She took the children out of the orphanage and moved to Fremont, Michigan to live with her widowed brother Jacob (he had four boys), and to farm. None of those Stermer children EVER got over the trauma of the orphanage.
Life finally improved for Alice once she got the insurance money, and then freed her children from the clutches of the orphanage. They all moved to Michigan, where they lived for awhile with her brother Jacob. Alice opened a roominghouse, and fortune gave her another chance when she met the man who was to be her second husband, German-born Peter Schmidt.
Peter met Alice in the boarding house in Detroit she bought in 1922 with the insurance money. When they married, they moved across the street to "their" house.
He had come from Triers in Western Germany. He spoke only broken English. He was head of the General Motors design laboratory doing research in body design and aerodynamics. He had a very well-paid job, but they always lived in that modest house. He was a very intellectual man and was exasperated with the dreadful fighting the Stermer boys indulged in, so he bought the Encyclopedia Britannica and he insisted that they "define their terms" and learn to argue and present their ideas in an orderly fashion. His European outlook was of great benefit and both James and Leon especially revered his influence.
Alice and Peter had one child, Lucille Schmidt, born April 1926, and they lived a happy family life until Peter's death in Detroit in 1949. By then Alice had two granddaughters, Mary and Judy, who also lived in Detroit, upon whom she doted, and she was secure in the knowledge that all of her sons were professionally successful, if a bit eccentric in some cases (for instance, young John and his wife were nudists, and Joe was a proud member of the Communist party).
In the 1950s, Alice moved to Arizona with her son Joe, and then they settled in Los Angeles, where she died in 1964.